Cover: Penaid Nonproliferation

Penaid Nonproliferation

Hindering the Spread of Countermeasures Against Ballistic Missile Defenses

Published Feb 26, 2014

by Richard H. Speier, K. Scott McMahon, George Nacouzi


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Research Questions

  1. What technologies and equipment related to ballistic missile countermeasures (known as penetration aids, or penaids), if proliferated, would constitute an emerging threat to the United States?
  2. How could the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Annex, the international instrument for preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, be refined to hinder the proliferation of countermeasures against missile defenses?
  3. What is the appropriate balance of specificity and generality in classifying penaid items in the MTCR Annex? Greater specificity would benefit export-control and customs officials, but greater generality would help avoid unintended information transfer to potential proliferators.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) becomes a greater threat when accompanied by the proliferation of effective means of delivery. As proliferator nations acquire ballistic missiles for this purpose, it will be important to establish effective measures to counter WMD attacks. But the benefits will be lost or reduced if proliferators can acquire effective countermeasures against missile defenses. Such countermeasures, when incorporated in an attacker's missile, are known as penetration aids, or penaids. This research was designed to assist U.S. agencies charged with generating policies to discourage the proliferation of WMD and ballistic missile delivery systems, thereby strengthening deterrence. Specifically, it recommends controls on potential exports of penaid-related items according to the structure of the current international policy against the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering WMD, the Missile Technology Control Regime. The recommendations account for 19 classes of such items and are based on structured interviews with government and nongovernment experts, as well as an independent technical assessment to develop a preliminary characterization of the technologies and equipment most critical to the emerging penaid threat. The project also brought together a selected group of experts to participate in a workshop to review the initial characterization of penaid technologies and equipment.

Key Findings

There Are Established Control Mechanisms to Prevent the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

  • The eight classes of items in the Missile Technology Control Regime's (MTCR's) Category I are subject to the tightest export restrictions. The MTCR guidelines state that such exports, if they occur at all, must be "rare" and subject to strong provisions with respect to supplier responsibility.
  • Category II items can be used to make Category I items, but they are dual-use. (That is, they have other purposes, such as a role in the functioning of peaceful satellites.) Category II exports are subject to greater flexibility but nevertheless require case-by-case export reviews and specific international procedures.
  • The MTCR has well-developed procedures for coordinating export decisions among its members. In addition, the United States has legislation providing sanctions against domestic and foreign entities that contribute to missile proliferation.

Nineteen Classes of Technologies and Equipment Related to Ballistic Missile Countermeasures (Known as Penetration Aids, or Penaids) Are Likely Candidates for International Export Control

  • Penaid-related items appropriate for inclusion in Category I are missile-borne countermeasure subsystems and penaids designed to saturate, confuse, evade, or suppress missile defenses and designed or modified for rocket systems capable of delivering at least a 500 kg payload to a range of 300 km.
  • There may be a reluctance to widen the strict restrictions of Category I to a large number of additional items. For that reason, it may be better to place certain items under the case-by-case review provisions of Category II.
  • Other classes of penaid-related items are clearly dual-use and therefore conform to the provisions of Category II, requiring case-by-case review.


  • The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) should implement the tightest controls on three types of penetration aid (penaid)-related items: complete, integrated countermeasure subsystems; complete subsystems for missile defense test targets; and boost-glide vehicles.
  • It should consider the tightest controls for ten lower-level subsystems that are specifically applicable to penaids, but it may be more realistic to perform a case-by-case review to maintain room for negotiation and avoid overloading the export-control framework. These items are as follows: canisters and dispensers; post-boost subsystems; replicas and decoys; electronic countermeasures; chaff, obscurants, and flares; reentry vehicle or decoy signature control mechanisms; plume signature control mechanisms; wake modification mechanisms; maneuvering subsystems; and submunitions.
  • The MTCR should subject six classes of items to a case-by-case review rather than an assumption of export denial because they are clearly dual-use. That is, they have utility for other, nonpenaid applications, such as peaceful satellites. These items are as follows: multiple-object deployment capabilities, inflation and assembly items, hardening, attack warning sensors, fly-along sensors, and test facilities and equipment.

This research was sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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